Thoughts on Lennon & Yoko’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”

December 26th, 2010 - by admin

Kevin Gosztola / OpEd News – 2010-12-26 21:20:26

Video: go here to see this video, which includes Lennon and Yoko’s song.

(December 24, 2010) — A number of people know this song. Somehow, the celebrity and enigma of John Lennon managed to catapult this song into the catalog of Christmas music that plays over and over again at Big Box retail stores and on FM radio stations around the country. The song, “Happy Xmas (War Is Over),” was released as a single in 1971.

It’s lyric, “War is over/If you want it,” came from a billboard and poster campaign in cities around the world that Lennon and Yoko Ono had carried out in 1969. And, when the song was released, the US was still entrenched in the Vietnam War.

The song seems irreverent. It is possible that Lennon was both sincere and cynical when he sang this song. “So this is Xmas/And what have you done” are lyrics wrought with irony; to Lennon and Yoko, they probably knew that a great many had been protesting and resisting the ongoing war but a great deal of Americans were also going about their daily lives and allowing the war to rage on.

“For black and for white
For yellow and red ones
Let’s stop all the fight”


“Let’s hope it’s a good one
Without any fear”

are both parts of the song imploring humanity to be better, but they could also be sung with a sense of great pessimism.

There’s a duality that is endearing to the song. Perhaps, sometimes it was a song being sung by a disappointed idealist and sometimes a song being sung by a passionate and loving man with hope for a better world.

Today, what do Americans who hear this song think? Do they think about how Congress continues to approve some of the largest military budgets in US history with little or no debate? Do they think about all the constructive and righteous things that could that could be funded instead of funding mercenary contractors or investing in the operations of the US military around the world?

Sadly, the majority probably never think about any of that. This song is probably one that Americans have grown desensitized to in the same way that many have grown desensitized to hearing the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” or “All I Want for Christmas is You.” Does that deepen or debase the song? It might do both. It might deepen the meaning — if you think the lyrics have a residue of cynicism — because look at Americans going about their daily lives and not really minding that America is now a country that wages perpetual war.

And, it could debase the meaning, because only if someone consciously sits down to listen to the song would they really hear the roughness behind the lyrics. Only then would they contemplate the meaning and what the lyrics might say about the current state of affairs in the world.

It’s a powerful song against war that is a Christmas song, but it is not a Christmas song. It could have been written at any time in the year and released. Yet, many people would not be aware of the existence of this song if Lennon and Yoko had not used Christmas as a means of expressing the spiritual urge to resist war. The ritualism of the holiday ensures that each year tens of thousands of people hear this song.

It may be too real for some Americans whose loved ones are off fighting in wars, whose loved ones were injured or died in the wars that have been fought in this country’s name. And then for some, it may just seem like a pleasant song of peace, a call to action to be considered or unheeded (“What, me resist war?”).

Finally, does this song implicitly comment on the consumerism or materialism of society?

Only if you understand that the fascination with goods or the ability to collect material items, to stay up with consumer trends, is one cultural habit Americans engage in, which makes it possible for wars to continue in lands whose geography Americans scarcely know.

Let’s admit, tomorrow President Obama could announce that “Sumfuckinlandia” was being bombed because it was harboring terrorists and Americans would wonder if that was really a country but ultimately they would take the president and our military at their word — because might is right, because they really couldn’t stop it from happening if they wanted to, and because they had to get back to their shopping.

Christmas is the one time of the year where people are universally supposed to be concerned for other people. Charities boost their campaigns for donations. The holiday season is used to appeal to the good-natured spirit of humanity and collect some money for the poor–the poor whom many despise because they know deep down that any day they could fall on similar circumstances and so they are afraid.

They give because they are ashamed with the organization of society and how it screws over people who don’t deserve to be screwed and gives wins to people who simply take, and take, and take everything they can get with no regard for those at the bottom.

Veterans groups send packages to those deployed in war. But, what about the people who will die this holiday season because they are under occupation? Those people who we are supposedly freeing from tyranny and democratizing, what about them?

What about the soldiers being asked to torture, assassinate civilians, or fire rounds at children or women whom they are certain have never done anything to the US and will never do anything to the US? How do they return home and just go through a holiday season that is supposed to be about “peace on Earth” without breaking down emotionally? How do they deal with the trauma?

Those questions with answers many shy away from because the answers make them uncomfortable may not belong in the space and time of any holiday celebration. They may be terribly out of place and deserve to be replaced by commercials for new gizmos and gadgets or advertisements for big holiday sales this season. They may be more interested in the lights and electrical inflatable Christmas mascots, which weigh down the yards of many Americans.

But, so long as this song is played, there is a way to speak to Americans and, at the very least, casually ask about the meaning behind these lyrics. Which makes this a gift that keeps on giving.

War is over, if you want it. Happy Xmas.

Kevin Gosztola is a multimedia editor for He follows media & activism, religions and their influence on politics, and sometimes writes movie reviews for OEN. His work can be found on Open Salon, The Seminal,, and a blog on Alternet called Moving Train Media. He can be heard on a weekly radio show called the “Saturday News Hangover.”

He is a 2009 Young People For Fellow and a documentary filmmaker who graduated with a Film/Video B.A. degree from Columbia College Chicago in the Spring 2010. In April 2010, he co-organized a major arts & media summit called “Art, Access & Action,” which explored the intersection of politics, art and media and was supported by Free Press. He is also a member of the Media Democracy Day Think Tank in Chicago.

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